WARRI, Nigeria (AP) — Militants blew up strategic gas and crude pipelines belonging to Shell and Agip on Saturday in an increasingly fierce campaign that has chopped Nigeria's oil production in half, militants and residents said.
A new militant group, calling itself the Niger Delta Avengers, reported in social media that they had dynamited the trunkline linking the Dutch-British Shell company's Bonny terminal and the Brass export terminal of the Italian company Agip. A local community leader Eke-Spiff Erempagamo confirmed the attack.
Nigeria's oil production had already fallen from a projected 2.2 million barrels a day to 1.4 million barrels before the latest attacks on the oil industry in southern Nigeria, including three within the past week on facilities of the U.S. oil major Chevron. Several companies have evacuated some of their workers.
The Niger Delta Avengers has given the oil companies a May 31 deadline to leave Nigeria's southern, oil-producing Niger Delta.
"Watch out something big is about to happen and it will shock the whole world," the Avengers warned Saturday, addressing international and indigenous oil companies and Nigeria's military.
In a surprise development, community leaders and non-violent activists have recently sided with the militants, saying residents of the Niger Delta support their demands for a greater share of the country's oil wealth. Oil pollution has destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers and fishermen.
The militants are also angry that the government is winding down a 2009 amnesty program that had paid 30,000 militants to guard installations they once attacked.
Nigeria's government has deployed thousands of soldiers to defend oil installations.
But the militants announced on Friday that they had blown up a state-owned gas and crude trunkline, noting it was "heavily guarded by the military."
Thousands of civilians have fled the fallout from the military campaign, though the army denies reports that uninvolved civilians have been killed.
Supporters of Nigeria's government and the southern based opposition party are accusing each other of funding the Avengers.
This year's renewed campaign targeting the oil industry in the Niger Delta have ca8used Nigeria to lose its position as Africa's largest oil producer, with Angola having taken the leading role since March.